Reed Sheppard was ranked 79th in the Class of 2023, according to 247Sports. That’s obviously great by any normal standard — but it’s not much relative to Kentucky’s standards under Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame coach John Calipari, evidence being that Sheppard was merely the fifth most-heralded prospect in UK’s top-ranked recruiting class that enrolled in advance of this season.
Was he wildly underrated?
Man, it sure looks like it. Because on Friday night, Sheppard took 10 shots, made nine of them and finished with a game-high 25 points in Kentucky’s 101-67 victory over Stonehill. The 6-foot-3 guard was 7-of-8 from 3-point range against the Skyhawks and is now shooting 70.6% from beyond the arc through four games with the Wildcats.
“I’ve got to give a lot of credit to my teammates,” said Sheppard, the son of Kentucky legend Jeff Sheppard, who was a two-time national champion for the Wildcats and the Most Outstanding Player of the 1998 Final Four. “They were able to break down the zone and get me open shots. I was able to knock them down.”
Simple as that.
To highlight just how unusual it is for a player ranked where Sheppard was ranked in high school to be contributing like this as a freshman at Kentucky, consider that a prospect ranked outside of the top 50 of his class (at 247Sports) has literally never played a major role as a freshman in any of the previous 14 years under Calipari. Again, Sheppard was ranked 79th in his class but has arguably been the WIldcats’ most impressive player so far this season. He got 13 points in 16 minutes against top-ranked Kansas earlier in the week and has now made 10 of his past 12 attempts from beyond the arc.
“Reed was terrific,” Calipari said late Friday.
Kentucky is up to No. 15 in Saturday morning’s updated CBS Sports Top 25 And 1 daily college basketball rankings, where Arkansas is down to No. 21 after Friday night’s 78-72 loss to UNC Greensboro. As I’ve explained many times, I do not drop top-16 teams completely out of the Top 25 And 1 after a first head-scratching loss this early in the season because I’ve done that before and, frankly, when I did it, it often led to super-goofy rankings. So now, when a top-16 team takes a bad loss early, like Michigan State did last week to James Madison, I simply hit them with an automatic 10-spot drop that serves as a punishment but also prevents me from overreacting to what usually ends up being little more than a bad 40 minutes of basketball at a less-than-ideal time.